Apps for Writing on the iPad

ipad writing apps

Writing on the iPad was one of the main excuses I came up with for getting this elegant piece of technology. After purchasing it, I soon realized that it wasn’t as useful as I thought it would be for writing. The main problem was the on-screen keyboard, but there was also a serious lack of writing-focused apps.

Six months after the iPad’s debut, the app situation, at least, has changed for the better. While I have discovered that when I need to do some heavy writing — for Nanowrimo, for instance — the iPad’s screen can’t compete with pounding out my words on my laptop. Still, for writing out short notes or a contemplative journal entry, I now use the iPad quite a bit for writing. Here’s what I have found works best for me.

The apps

After trying out many different apps with many different approaches, I have narrowed my tools down to two: Writer.ia and PlainText. Both are well-designed, simple tools that do what they do without a lot of fluff and features I don’t need in order to just sit down and write. I tend to draft in one and revise in the other.

PlainText is probably the app I use the most for writing on the iPad. As its name suggests, it’s just plain text, no fancy formatting options, no bullet lists, alignment options — you can’t even change the font. It’s extremely useful for writing lists, quick notes, outlines and other things I just need to dash out quickly. I’ve used a few other tools by the developer of PlainText, including the awesome Writeroom, and he really promotes the idea of simplicity in software, for which I am thankful. PlainText is free, but I’d have no problem paying for it.

plaintext ipad app screenshot

PlainText Screenshot

Writer.ia is well suited for working on longer projects. It has its own custom keys to move between words and give you quick access to punctuation marks and other keys that are clumsy to get to if you’re using the on-screen keyboard. Combined with the Focus mode that keeps your view focused on the three center lines of text (see screenshot below), I think the app is particularly useful for editing and revising longer pieces of writing. Writer.ia is not free and, while its $4.99 price tag may seem exorbitantly expensive in the app world (I’m being mostly sarcastic — there’s a lot of irrationality when it comes to judging the price of apps), I found it was worth the five bucks.

writer app ipad screenshot

Writer.ia Screenshot

If you’re so inclinded, you can read more about how these two apps differ in this side-by-side review on GigaOm.

Keeping it all organized

The tool that keeps all of this remote, mobile writing painless is a service called Dropbox. Up to a certain amount of storage, Dropbox is free and it pretty seamlessly keeps my documents synced between my computers and mobile devices. It’s a great way to keep everything I’m writing accessible and organized. I’ve been using it for a few years for various reasons and since I got the iPad, I use it daily.

For writing in the cloud, I could use Google Docs but I actually find that service a little bit frustrating and the fact that I couldn’t edit documents on mobile devices always kept the big G at a distance for me.

I put this system through its paces while trying to write my novel for Nanowrimo this year. It didn’t help me actually finish it, but I’ll keep this workflow going as I keep plugging away on it.

If you have any apps or services that help you get your writing down, wherever and whenever, let me know. I’m a huge nerd about this kind of stuff…

Here are some other articles taking a look at various  iPad writing apps:

If you liked this article at After the MFA, come check out my other web project The Slow Man. I’m talking about creativity, productivity, work/life balance, slowing down and enjoying life with a glass of scotch and a cigar

15 Authors Who Have Influenced Me

While checking out 52 Faces’s website, I saw her post on 15 authors who influenced her and felt compelled to keep it going. Like she said, if you’re reading this post, consider yourself tagged and spread the discovery.

The Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag at least 15 friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

15 Authors Who Have Influenced Me

  1. Ray Bradbury
  2. Raymond Carver
  3. Joan Didion
  4. Ernest Gaines
  5. Céline
  6. John Steinbeck
  7. Cormac McCarthy
  8. Toni Morrison
  9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Junot Diaz
  11. Henry Miller
  12. John Fante
  13. Ralph Ellison
  14. William Faulkner
  15. J.D. Salinger

This list is in no particular order and is probably leaving off some significant names. I tried to write it quickly, thinking of authors of books and stories that I have read more than once and that are always top of mind when I think of my own writing. It’s an interesting exercise, but I’m going to have to look at it a bit more before I can come up with any astute analysis. One thing that does occur to me is I more often feel like I’m more influenced by other artists besides writers — musicians and filmmakers probably more than anyone else. If I could write books like Kurosawa made movies, like Miles Davis made  music….

NaNoWrimo 2010: Not a Savior, But a Salve

I know a little bit about the NaNoWriMo. After attempting it back in 2002, and failing because I almost died from the flu in the last week of the month, I salvaged my dignity and used portions of my effort for my MFA application.

A few years later I tried to go back to the frenzied writing source, but something came up. Details are fuzzy.

This year, I’ve been mentally focused on finally writing this novel springing from a MFA-era short story, and publicly declared I was going to make this shit happen in 2010. Turns out a bunch of stuff happened this year and I have approximately zero pages logged in on that novel project.

But here we are again. Back near November.

So I am now declaring that I will go toe-to-toe with nanowrimo in 2010 to finally figure this fucking novel out. Get out of my brain and on digital paper. For once and for all. I mean it.

To be honest I was just too depressed last year to do it. New York and cold and rain were bringing me down. Thanks to climate change I’m still wearing linen in late October. So temperature is taken care of.

As far as motivation, my daughters are getting older and loving storytelling more and more. I need to put my effort where my mouth is in the parental inspiration department. And that takes care of the passion and commitment portion.

Finally, a friend of mine recently opted out of life. At this point in my own life, I can’t ignore events like this. It is clearly time to make good on unresolved potential, whether I am bound for failure or not. While I doubt his mortal decision was to help us get off our ass and do something, that ended up being the effect in my particular case. RIP, Aaron.

Are you doing the nanowrimo thing? Let me know in the comments or email and let’s connect and keep each other properly motivated.

EDIT TO ADD: My user name on Nanowrimo is choquito. Please add me as a buddy, if you like.